FALL WEATHER: SHOULD’VE PUT A DOME ON IT
Hey, when you’re spending that much money, what’s a few dollars more?
ANGELS-YANKEES HEAD TO HEAD, PART III
LEFT FIELD: JUAN RIVERA (22.4 VORP, 14th among left fielders) vs. JOHNNY DAMON (39.3, 4th)
Rivera was having a breakout year until his bat went dead in August and stayed dead through the end of the season. On the last day of July, he was hitting .314/.357/.525. From then on he hit .246/.296/.408. A hamstring injury might have played a part. Note that even with the slump, he did smoke southpaws to the tune of .333/.385/.645, with 12 homers in 141 at-bats. Righties were a different story: .271/.313/.418. Rivera is a fair defensive left fielder. The same can’t be said of Damon, who is getting to fewer and fewer balls these days as he loses speed and bobbles more than his fair share of those he does get to. However, with the aid of the New Yankee Stadium, which supplied almost all of his home run power, Damon was an offensive plus in left. Unfortunately, he went cold in September and stayed cold in the first round of the playoffs. The good news is that he has a good record against John Lackey and Joe Saunders, not so much against Jered Weaver. Then again, the predictive power of those small samples is exactly zero. I’m calling it EDGE: YANKEES on the home field advantage; Damon knows how to pull the ball into the right field wind tunnel. Rivera faces the wrong way to do that, and hasn’t hit the Yankees pitchers well in any case.
CENTER FIELD: TORII HUNTER (41, 3rd) vs. MELKY CABRERA (17.1, 22nd) and BRETT GARDNER (11.4, 28th)
On a per-game basis, Gardner was more valuable than Cabrera; he was also the better ballhawk in center field. The presence of Freddy Guzman on the ALCS roster suggests that Joe Girardi might have it in mind to start him some; we can only hope so. Cabrera will undoubtedly play against lefties Scott Kazmir and Joe Saunders, though he can’t really hit lefties. Hunter did slump a bit in the second half, following an injury time-out, but he did hit a home run against the Red Sox (again, for whatever these three-game samples are worth). Hunter’s defensive abilities, always overstated, have shrunk a bit, but he’s still very capable. EDGE: ANGELS
RIGHT FIELD: BOBBY ABREU (35.6, 7th) vs. NICK SWISHER (30.9, 10th)
On a per-game basis, there was very little difference between Abreu and Swisher, and Swisher is by far the superior defensive player, despite his staggering about the outfield about once a game. He usually catches up to the ball he’s weaving after, while Abreu does not. In short, the offense is a wash, the defense is not. One note: in a decent sample of plate appearances, Swisher has been fairly helpless against John Lackey, though he did once touch him for a home run. Small EDGE: YANKEES.
DESIGNATED HITTER: VLADIMIR GUERRERO (15.6, 8th) vs. HIDEKI MATSUI (33.4, 3rd)
After his July DL stint, which lasted for about a month, the Impaler hit .300/.347/.498. Weird thing about his season: he hit just .250/.276/.410 against lefties, whereas he usually destroys them. We have to consider that a fluke that could reverse itself at any time during the playoffs. Conversely, you can hope that Matsui gets to face a lefty in the late innings — and since the Angels two best relievers are southpaws, he will. He’s never been bothered by them, and he positively smooshed ’em this year. EDGE: YANKEES.
STARTING PITCHER , GAME 1: JOHN LACKEY vs. CC SABATHIA
The Angels whacked Sabathia around a bit this year, but as we covered a couple of entries back, not in a way that suggests that they have his number. Lackey pitched well against the Yankees in his one start against them this year. His career record against them is 5-7 with a 4.66 ERA. As you know, he has good control and keeps the ball down without exactly being a groundball pitcher. He’s always been very effective against right-handed hitters, but that’s less of a problem for the Yankees with their lineup of switch-hitters and lefties. Lackey is an excellent pitcher with a fine postseason record (3.02 ERA in 12 games) and due to injury he hasn’t pitched all that much this year. Call it EDGE: YANKEES, but it’s not a sure thing.
This is all Yankees. The Angels will rely mainly on four relief arms: Brian Fuentes, Darren Oliver, Jason Bulger, and Kevin Jepsen. Jepsen throws hard but can be wild, and left-handed hitters smoked him (.373/.426/.455). Bulger is almost the same story. He throws hard but wild. He was, however, very hard to hit, allowing opposing hitters just a .207 average. Left-handers did manage to touch off five home runs in only 107 at-bats. The second act to Oliver’s career is a wonderful story. Primarily a starter from 1993 to 2004, he was generally pounded, his ERA 5.07. He spent 2006 in the minors and got pounded there as well, but nonetheless caught on with the Mets as a reliever in 2006. Since then, he’s pitched 223 games, has a record of 19-4, and an ERA of 3.19. In several seasons, including this one, he’s had a reverse split; lefties have hit him better than righties. He’s the team’s most reliable reliever, but the Yankees really damaged southpaws this year, something which also does not bode well for closer Brian Fuentes. Fuentes struggled at times this year, and manager Mike Scioscia flirted with a demotion, but there was really nowhere else to go. That he ended up leading the American League in saves tells you just how valuable the saves statistic is.
The Yankees pen is deep and versatile, deep enough that if a rainout means that the Yankees have to start a Joba or a Chad Gaudin somewhere, they could survive a short start without too much trouble. EDGE: YANKEES.
This is Joe Girardi’s first time in the rarified air of the LCS, whereas Mike Scioscia has been here before. The trick for Girardi will be, as it was in the first round, good bullpen handling and not getting too caught up in one-run strategies. Scioscia’s Angels run quite a bit and throughout the days leading up to this contraction the Yankees sounded almost jealous of their speed, but the fact is that the Angels do not always run well. They also bunt quite a bit, primarily with Erick Aybar and the punchless Jeff Mathis. This represents Scioscia trying to do more with these players than they are truly capable of doing, but except for select situations is probably counterproductive. It is worth noting that when both the Angels and Yankees did attempt to bunt, neither team was particularly successful — they failed to advance the runner about a third of the time. Girardi seems to like to hit and run quite a bit, a reaction to his team’s relative lack of speed. The Angels, on the other hand, seem to like to keep the bat in the batter’s hands and run and hit, letting the runner go, and if the batter swings, fine, and if not, not. On the pitching side, Scioscia had nine blown quality starts, which is to say that his starting pitcher had pitched well enough to qualify for a quality start but Scioscia kept in him long enough to give up some more runs. Girardi had only five, despite receiving more quality starts from his pitching staff. I’m going to rate this EDGE: YANKEES, because Girardi, having superior resources, knows he doesn’t have to push as hard. Scioscia is doing more “managing,” which often doesn’t help.
OFF TO THE ROUNDTABLE
Today, BP is doing another roundtable, a doubleheader covering both games. All are welcome. For more info or to submit a question, join us here.
FIRST WONDERFUL SURPRISE OF THE DAY
My first kidney stone attack in 4.3 years. I am a happy, happy, happy guy right now.
SECOND WONDERFUL SURPRISE OF THE DAY
It turns out that I can write this entry while curled into a fetal position and begging my wife to kill me.
THIRD WONDERFUL SURPRISE OF THE DAY
The Yankees dropped Eric Hinske from the ALCS roster and added Freddy Guzman. The Yankees now have three non-bats on the bench in Jose Molina, Francisco Cervelli, and Guzman, and arguably another in Jerry Hairston. It’s wonderful that Girardi can pinch-run for the catchers and never run out of spare tires, but who the heck is going to hit for these guys if they get into a 1-1 tie in the tenth? Hinske can play four positions, and though he doesn’t man any of them brilliantly, that versatility is an asset in itself, even before you account for the fact that he’s the only guy reserve who can come off the bench and hit a home run. If baseball teams had larger rosters, you could stash a track and field guy at the end of your bench, but as things stand now you pay a definite price for the luxury of being able to win the broad jump event but not the home run derby.
ANGELS-YANKEES HEAD TO HEAD, PART II
THIRD BASE: CHONE FIGGINS (37.8 VORP, 8th) vs. ALEX RODRIGUEZ (52.3, 4th)
A-Rod was actually the most productive third baseman in baseball on a per-game basis. That whole hip thing hurt his totals. We have apples and oranges here, a singles hitter who has learned to take a walk (Figgins’ walks and on-base percentage are career highs) and an apparently mellow slugger who had a terrifically productive year despite a bad leg. The further A-Rod was from his surgery, the better he was, hitting .310/.394/.518 in the second half. He had a more relaxed approach, seemingly trying for fewer home runs. Rodriguez also ran the bases surprisingly well for a man who was supposed to be, as Peter Cook famously put it, a unidexter.
Small sample caveats about, but it may be safe to call Figgins a poor postseason player. He’s participated in six October series over the years and is a career .182 hitter in 29 games. He actually went 0-for-12 against Boston. Note also that Figgins can be neutralized by southpaws. He hit only .246/.325/305 against left-handers, which is consistent with his career-long predilections. EDGE: YANKEES
SHORTSTOP: ERICK AYBAR (30.5, 13th) vs. DEREK JETER (72.8, 2nd)
Aybar is an interesting player, a singles hitter with great speed who isn’t allowed to run much because he’s so bad at it. A switch-hitter, his left-handed stroke is pretty much all singles, as is his right-handed stroke, only he gets a few more of them from that side of the plate. You don’t need me to tell you that Captain Jeter is a more rounded player and then some. EDGE: YANKEES
CATCHER: MIKE NAPOLI (24.8, 5th) and JEFF MATHIS (-9.2, 107th) vs. JORGE POSADA (35.8, 3rd)
Napoli is a fine, almost Posada-esque hitter who creamed lefties this year (.330/.417/.606). If he’s not in the lineup against Sabathia, officially deduct two genius points from Mike Scioscia. That he might not be in the lineup is because Mathis plays quite often due to various real or perceived defensive deficiencies on Napoli’s part. The problem is that neither player throws well, so you’re pretty much down to handling of pitchers, and Napoli would have to receive like an octuple-amputee octopus with a raging substance abuse problem to justify sacrificing the amount of offense that comes with dragging Mathis into the lineup. Mathis is a career .200/.277/.320 hitter and was worse than that this year. Oddly enough, Jose Molina is almost exactly the same hitter, .235/.277.332 for his career, so if Scioscia happens to time a Mathis start with A.J. Burnett’s game, it will be like both teams decided to forego the catcher’s spot and play an eight-man lineup. If Napoli or Posada is playing when the other one is not, the imbalance between the two positions is huge. Otherwise, Posada is the better all-around hitter, especially in Yankee Stadium, but Napoli has some advantages too, like striking out and hitting enough fly balls to rarely hit into a double play. Overall we’ll call this EDGE: YANKEES, but not a huge one.
We’ll wrap this up with the outfield and the first three starters in part three.
TONIGHT, TONIGHT, TONIGHT
I’ll be participating in a BP roundtable during the first game of the NLCS. All are welcome. Information is available here.
FIVE YEARS LATER…
…The Yankees are back in the American League Championship Series. This is an accomplishment, no doubt about it, but the sweep of the Twins shouldn’t be taken as any sign of the Yankees’ predestination as champions. Despite their exciting charge into the postseason (or the Tigers’ historic collapse), the Twins were not a very good team, but rather the last survivor of one of baseball’s weakest divisions. They were there because a team had to represent the AL Central, not because they had any claim on greatness. They were no better than the Tigers, Rangers, Rays, Mariners, Marlins, Braves, Cubs, or Giants, teams with similar records who now compete only on the nation’s golf courses. Moreover, the Twins were missing one of their big bats, Justin Morneau; the Yankees defeated a half-strength team that was down half its strength.
The point here is not to diminish the win any, because the Yankees played excellent baseball against an opponent that didn’t roll over. Game Three’s key defensive play by Derek Jeter is another great, heady move to add to his Hall of Fame case, one of two in the series. Actually, the very fact that he was able to make those plays points up the very inadequacy of the Twins as an opponent. Just as Jeremy Giambi made Jeter’s most famous play possible by failing to slide, the Twins made mistakes that an intelligent player like Jeter could exploit. During the broadcasts of the series, you heard a great deal about what a gritty, gutty, speedy, fundamentally sound, ballclub the Twins were — this despite their tripping around the field at every opportunity. The Twins are a myth, one created because calling things what they are isn’t something the media does. Yes, the Twins are small-market. Yes, they have had a miserable stadium deal. Yes, their late billionaire owner never seemed that interested in spending for another winner after the team’s 1987 and 1991 championships. None of that means they had to play Nick Punto or Joe Crede or Delmon Young or any of their other compromise ballplayers. Not counting midseason acquisitions Orlando Cabrera and Ron Mahay, Punto is the highest-paid Twin after Morneau, Joe Nathan, Joe Mauer, and Michael Cuddyer. That’s just not right.
It seems as if The Angels will represent more of a test, because they have things the Twins can only dream of. The Twins have emphasized the drafting and development of low-stuff college hurlers who pitch to contact (Johan Santana was a Rule 5 accident), though they did strike out more than their share of Yankees in the series just completed. Overall, the Angels did not have a great pitching staff for strikeouts, but of the pitchers the Yankees will see in the ALCS — John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Scott Kazmir, Joe Saunders — only Saunders would fit in on the Twins. They also have a deeper offense. Not all of their .290-.300 hitters are created equal given their organizational reluctance (despite much lip-service being given to the positive influence of Bobby Abreu) to reach base via walk. As for their vaunted baserunning game, it wasn’t the most successful operation in the world — the Angels stole at a 70 percent success rate, which was one of the worst rates in the league. By contrast, the Yankees stole at an 80 percent rate, which is to say that in every 50 attempts, the Yankees went 40-10 and the Angels 35-15. Finally, the Angels haven’t much in the way of bullpen. They very much missed the injured Scot Shields. Darren Oliver was their most productive reliever, followed by closer Brian Fuentes. Notwithstanding their historic aversion to playing well against the Angels, something that the Yankees might have put behind them in taking two of three at Anaheim in late September, there is no reason the Yankees cannot take this series.
We’ll get into the head-to-head stuff tomorrow. We’ve got all bloody week to delve into this series.
PUT MARIANO RIVERA IN THE HALL OF FAME TOMORROW OR TODAY
Not that he needs another paean to his brilliance, but the series again demonstrated why Mariano Rivera is a unique talent. If you compare Joe Nathan to Rivera during the regular season since 2004, there isn’t a lot to suggest that Rivera has been dramatically better than Nathan in that time, if he has been better at all. Nathan has pitched in 412 games and converted 247 of 272 save opportunities with an ERA of 1.87. Rivera has pitched 405 games and saved 243 victories in 261 chances. Rivera allowed 26 percent of his inherited runners to score. Nathan allowed only 20 percent. Under most conditions, if you had traded one for the other the teams would have seen a minimal change in outcomes.
“Most conditions” do not include the postseason. Rivera is one of the greatest postseason performers in history. You could make a reasonable argument that he is in fact the greatest postseason performer in baseball history given his level of excellence over so many games, the expansion of the postseason to three rounds in recent years having provided him with more October opportunities than even some of the Dynasty greats like Yogi Berra. Nathan has had many fewer opportunities, but he’s one of the reasons that he’s pitched in fewer games, not having done very well.
Rivera only got one chance at a save in this year’s ALDS, pitching with a big lead in Game 1 and coming in to try to protect a tie in Game 2, something at which he failed, so it’s not as if this series is going to deserve a track on his greatest hits album, though aside from allowing those runners inherited from Phil Hughes to score he did quite well. What he did isn’t as important as what he has done, and what Nathan wasn’t able to do.
I was disgusted to see a list of “productive outs” pop up towards the end of TBS’s broadcast last night. It just cemented TBS’s status as a network that broadcasts baseball but doesn’t pay enough attention to the game in any of its aspects to be successful. How the heck do we kill this concept that making outs can be a good thing? Check out the stats: A team with a runner on first with no outs has the expectation of scoring .88 runs, but a team with a runner on second and one out will score just .69 runs. Even though the runner moved over, the chances of scoring went down. Similarly, a runner on second with no outs meant that teams scored 1.14 runs on average, whereas hit a grounder to the right side and “productively” move that sucker over, and the run expectation drops to .97. Now, it is preferable to have the runner at second with one out (.69) then it is at first with one out, that is, having received a “non-productive” out (.53), so the productive out would be worth .16 of a run. That’s nice, but it’s such a small thing that it doesn’t really mean anything, doesn’t add up into anything you can see in the final record.
If the Yankees can be credited with having a high total of such outs, it is because they had a high total of runners on base. Scoring is the result of reaching base and making extra-base hits, not making outs. All this stuff about productive outs is purely imaginary corn for suckers, and TBS embracing it is just one more embarrassment for an amateurish production.
I BELIEVE IT IS A CHAT OR AN ELEPHANT
I’m not certain, but I believe that I and some Baseball Prospectus colleagues will be hosting a live chat during this evenings Phillies-Rockies game. Drop by BP.com around game-time for more info.